Usman sees light at the end of frustrating matchmaking tunnel


UFC welterweight contender Kamaru Usman will admit he didn’t think his path to the top would take this long.

Usman (12-1) will meet two-time UFC title challenger Demian Maia at UFC Fight Night on Saturday, in Santiago, Chile. It’s an exciting matchup for Usman, as Maia is considered one of the greatest submission artists in UFC history and is by far the highest-profile opponent Usman has ever faced.

A victory on Saturday — which would improve Usman’s UFC record to 8-0 — would be a feather in the cap. More importantly, however, it would make him very hard to duck.

“At that point, there’s only a select few, a limited amount of guys, that would make sense for me to fight,” Usman said. “I believe, if I beat Demian Maia, it’s going to be very hard for the other top guys to go around me.”

A former collegiate wrestler, Usman, 31, says the tipping point in his decision to transition into MMA was the quick ascent of former UFC champ Jon Jones.

Usman says he and Jones have known each other since high school. He remembers watching his first UFC fight in 2005 — and says Jones was there. The two were visiting one of Jones’ college friends.

When Jones won a UFC championship in 2011, just three years into his professional career, Usman was floored. Here was a guy he knew personally, rising to the very top of the sport in a short amount of time. It hit close to home.

Usman began his pro career the following year.

“When I watched him win that fight, I was just like, ‘Man. This is a buddy of mine. I know his mindset, and I know my mindset,'” Usman said. “I think he accomplished it in less than four years. That was my goal when I started. That was the timeline I wanted to do it in. I already knew my level because I had trained with killers.”

Since his UFC debut in 2015, Usman has out-struck his opponents 331 to 132, according to Fightmetric data. He has also scored 28 takedowns, while giving up none.

He has complained, however, of having difficulty finding fights. Potential opponents don’t want to face him, according to Usman. His agent, Ali Abdelaziz, has referred to Usman as “the most avoided fighter in the UFC today.”

“Jon worked for everything he got, and he deserves it all, but I will say, he got his fights in the UFC,” Usman said. “It was easier for him to get fights at that time, because there wasn’t this official rankings system made up by random people that we don’t know. And now, guys are trying to protect their ranking.

“For Jon, it was, ‘Here’s your next fight.’ Can anyone tell me what Jon Jones was ranked when he fought for the UFC title? No one knows. I believe, in that aspect, it was easier to get fights back then. It wasn’t, ‘What’s this guy ranked?’ You fought, made your money and went home.”

It has taken six years for Usman to headline his first UFC event and face a universally ranked top-10 opponent. And yeah, that timeline frustrates him a bit.

But a win this weekend should speed things up considerably, moving forward.

“This is Demian Maia,” Usman said. “The UFC champion [Tyron Woodley] couldn’t finish him last year. Before that, seven guys in a row couldn’t beat him. My goal is to dominate start to finish. If the opportunity comes to finish him, I will gladly take it. If it doesn’t, I’ll gladly dominate him the whole way.”

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